Global warming: the solution is simpler than you thought

How to break through the fog around climate change and find a solution?

John Harte, a physicist-turned-ecologist at the University of California, Berkeley, looks first to the mountains, then to the oceans and ice, and finally to the optimism that underlies so much political thought and action in the United States. .

Speaking before the Humanist Sciences Commission in little Salida, Colorado, earlier this month, Harte used a slide to “tear down” Holocaust deniers, a slide to show the real issues – the collapse of civilization – and the rest of his conversation to outline the impacts he has seen from a life of research in the Rockies and where he sees hope.

“There is no doubt that the course we have taken for the past 60 years will lead to a crash,” he said. “But the alternate future is the cautious transition to what we call a soft landing…where we need less of an Earth to sustain what we’re doing on Earth.”

Global warming: bad news

Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado.

Viv Lynch/flckr

But first, bad news: Global warming is going to be worse than we thought, Harte said. Various feedbacks related to global warming – from increased wildfires to warmer oceans to thawing permafrost – are not well enough understood to be considered in predictive models.

“It’s scary. These models likely significantly underestimate the increase in atmospheric temperature that will likely occur from our current levels of climate pollution.”

Harte, a senior fellow at UC Berkeley’s famed Energy and Resources groupspent his life connecting the dots – studying flowers in high mountain grasslands for evidence of rising fossil fuel emissions, observing the “smoke and mirrors” behind geoengineering and sequestration carbon.

Solutions to climate change

The solutions, he says, are more politically feasible than most realize given today’s polarized political environment:

  • Improve efficiency, including raising car mileage standards to 60 miles per gallon of gasoline, from 35 mpg today.
  • Develop clean and safe renewable energies, in particular solar energy on the roofs of houses.
  • Changing personal consumption habits
  • Stop destroying forests
  • Support reproductive freedom.

“Who will be the economic winners 50 years from now? These will be the countries that have made the greatest progress in solar power and battery storage, in the technology needed to achieve a climate-free future,” Harte said.

“Selfishly, for the sake of our grandchildren and the economy they live in, we should be doing these things.”

The talk clocks at just over one o’clock. But it’s a refreshing insight into an issue that is increasingly staring us all in the face.

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Teresa H. Sadler